Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gettin' Real with George Pelecanos

My word we're having another storm here in CA. I have to laugh at California's relationship with weather. Though, contrary to popular belief we do actually get cold, and even snow here, it's true that we have nothing to complain about in comparison to say, oh, three-quarters of the United States and much of the rest of the world. Yet anytime we get a big storm it not only makes the news--we get "Storm Tracker". . .you'd think we were having volcanic eruptions! Blizzards! We take our rain very seriously out here, yessirree.

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Anyway, that's not the point of this post. Yesterday I interviewed George Pelecanos. Depending on where you spend more time, you either know him as the gritty crime novelist whose books are all set in D.C., or as one of the writers/producers of HBO's series The Wire. I like interviewing authors in general, but the ones I like best are those for whom fame was a kind of happy accident, who didn't start out with their egos heavily invested in the process. Pelecanos has lived his whole life in Washington D.C. where he's absorbed the local color and culture. He listens to people talking around him; he observes. He may be a Greek boy, but he has an uncanny ability to write as if he comes from the streets of D.C. where gangs and hoods and cops tangle, too.

He didn't study writing in college, or go through an MFA program. He's well-read and likes film and books a great deal, but he's first and foremost just a guy. You know what I mean? He's not high-falutin'. He doesn't work in fancy words or drop vaguely foreign sounding terms into general conversation. He's real. He's honest. I like real.

For fun, here's a snippet of dialogue between characters from his novel Drama City. Lorenzo is an ex-con whose "straight" now and works as "dog police." But a friend of his has been stabbed and he's gone back to an old drug pal to try to settle the score. They're trying to get a car out of the fellow with the rotweiler:

Lorenzo stabbed the fork into the T-bone on the grill, lifted it, shook it loose, and let it fall to the ground in front of the rot. The dog's nub of tail wiggled furiously as he took the steak in his teeth...

Nigel chuckled. "You ain't lost nothing'."

"Some shit just stay natural," said Lorenzo.

"Thought you was gonna break a beer bottle off. Or maybe take one of those loose bricks and throw it through the window of the Impala."

"I thought of that. Car that nice, I just couldn't fuck with it."

"You made do with that fork, though."

Duke came out of the garage and handed Nigel a piece of paper...

"Nah," said Duke. "Nah, uh-uh." He had noticed Champ getting down on the T-bone. "Why'd you have to go and do that to a man, too?"

"He deserves a steak, way you mistreat him," said Lorenzo. "And don't even think of beating that animal 'cause I can see by the way he cringes that you do."

"Who the fuck are y'all?" said Duke.

"We ain't nobody you ever seen or met," said Nigel. "You understand?"

It is no surprise to me that not only have his books (I think he's published 14 now) become immensely well-selling, but that he has been tapped to write for quality TV programs, and that his books have been optioned by Hollywood. I am sorry it took me this long to check him out.

My interview with him will appear in a summer issue of Writer's Digest magazine, though a podcast version may go up sooner. Until then, check him out for yourself.


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